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Tom Hanks’ First Western Arrives on Netflix: Proves a Timely Reminder of America’s Turbulent Past

February 10, 2021 Visit USA No Comments

It may be hard to believe, but Tom Hanks has never starred in a Western genre film.  But in Paul Greengrass’s new Western film, News of the World, the Academy Award Winner dons a cowboy hat for the first time (in non-animated form), to play Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a widower and veteran of three wars, who now moves from town to town as a non-fiction storyteller, sharing the news of presidents and queens, glorious feuds, devastating catastrophes, and gripping adventures from the far reaches of the globe.

Inspired by the National Book Award finalist, and best-selling novel by Paulette Jiles, News of the World arrives on Netflix on February 10 from Universal Pictures.

The film, set five years after the end of the Civil War, tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and a young woman name Johanna (Helena Zengel), a 10-year-old taken in by the Kiowa people six years earlier and raised as one of their own.  Kidd agrees to deliver Johanna to her biological aunt and uncle at the behest of the law which decrees it so, even though Joahanna would prefer to stay with the American Indian tribe who have raised her.  Together, the two will travel hundreds of kilometres and face tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces as they search for a place that either can call home.

News of the World boldly shows the tumultuous state of the USA in the years after the Civil War, and shines a light on the impact the war, and the preceding Trail of Tears had on the USA, and in particular the people of the central states including Texas and the Indian Territory that would later become the State of Oklahoma in 1907.

Oklahoma’s position in American Indian history has been significant, being the unassigned land that almost 60,000 American Indians were forced to relocate to from their ancestral homelands, following the passage of the Indian Removal Act, 1830.

Today, there are 39 American Indian tribal headquarters in Oklahoma, more than any other U.S. state and a total of 67 American Indian nations have called Oklahoma home – including the Kiowa tribe featured in News of the World.  Their strong heritage and culture is very much a part of Oklahoma’s identity today.

In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled its legal duty and moral obligation, ruling that almost half of Oklahoma was American Indian land in one of the most far-reaching American Indian cases to come before the highest USA court in decades.  Three million acres of land in east Oklahoma was returned to the Muscogee Creek Nation, to meet the original boundaries of the Nation under the Treaty of 1866.

Today, the state pays homage to its American Indian legacy through numerous places of significance across the state, including:

Standing Bear Monument, Ponca City;  Red Earth Festival, Oklahoma City

Cherokee National History Museum, Tahlequah, OK

Less than 5 miles from the Heritage Center is the Cherokee National History Museum which first opened in August 2019. Located in the iconic Cherokee National Capitol Building, the building originally housed the tribe’s executive, legislative and judicial offices from 1869 – 1906 and was most recently the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court before transforming into a space dedicated to sharing the tribe’s history and culture with the rest of the world. Exhibits feature commissioned art by Cherokee Nation artists, alongside displays of preserved artefacts and interactive augmented reality stations.

Chickasaw Recreation Area and Chickasaw Cultural Center, Sulphur, OK

Located in the foothills of the Arbuckle Mountains in Sulphur, Chickasaw National Recreation Area is Oklahoma’s oldest national park and an under-the-radar nature spot. The government purchased 640 acres of land from the Chickasaw Nation in 1902 to protect the mineral and freshwater springs, with additional acreage bought in 1906 and renamed Platt National Park. Joined with the Lake of the Arbuckles, the two parks joined to form the Chickasaw National Recreation Area 70 years later. Road trippers can choose from six campgrounds within the park to explore the 30+ trails and enjoy swimming, boating, horseback riding and cycling across this expansive land.

Immerse yourself in Chickasaw civilization from the tribe’s pre-Oklahoma existence through the triumphs of the tribe today at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, on the edge of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. This grand cultural centre, which sits on more than 100 acres of Chickasaw land in south-central Oklahoma, allows visitors to see, feel and even taste the heritage of the Chickasaw tribe through interactive exhibits, botanical displays and traditional dwellings. Walk through the powerful Removal Corridor to view the painful journey that brought the Chickasaws to Oklahoma and feel as though you’re traversing the bleak winter landscape yourself. While at the center, join the inner circle of a long-practiced stomp dance and get a taste of true Chickasaw culture at the Aaimpa’ Café, where traditional fare such as grape dumplings, Indian fry bread and pashofa (a corn soup) are served.

Standing Bear Park, Museum & Education Center, Ponca City

Standing Bear may have been a chief of the Ponca tribe, but the towering statue erected in his honor in Ponca City stands as a tribute to every Native American. Famous for his landmark speech before a U.S. District Court in 1879 stating that all American Indians regardless of tribe deserved the same recognition and protection under the law as white men, Standing Bear paved the way for native rights in this country. Standing two stories high and made of bronze, this larger-than-life representation of the chief at Standing Bear Park captures his spirit of compassion and zeal. After viewing the statue of Standing Bear, take a moment to stroll along the on-site walking trails and consider the incredible legacy of the six area Native American tribes: Osage, Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Kaw, Tonkawa and Ponca. Don’t miss the renowned Standing Bear Powwow, held each year in September, to witness as representatives from these six tribes gather for intertribal dancing, powerful singing and lively drumming within the park.

Osage Nation Museum, Pawhuska, OK

The Osage Nation Museum is the oldest tribally owned museum in the USA. This Pawhuska landmark has an extensive photograph collection, historical artefacts and art collection telling the story of the Osage people. Take time to explore the spirited mix of American Indian and western culture in the town of Pawhuska, where 86 of the 98 downtown buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town’s heritage is deeply interwoven with the Osage Nation, named in honour of Chief Paw-Hiu-Skah.

In 2021, Oklahoma will welcome two new American Indian places of significance – the state of the art new First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, and the Choctaw Cultural Center in Durant, headquarters of the Choctaw Nation.

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